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For whatever reason it was a long wait for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 — I counted about six months. Worth waiting for?
Yes, for a number of reasons, not all directly to do with image making either.
As a MILC (mirrorless interchangeable lens camera) this is as fully featured as you can get and then offers more in the rugged department: it has a magnesium alloy, full diecast body, coupled with splash and dustproof construction, achieved by tightly sealing sections of the camera body.
Test lens was the Lumix G Vario Power OIS f2.8/12-35mm, equating to a 24-70mm lens in a 35 SLR.
There’s a ton of external controls planted on the GH3’s body.
Top deck: at left is a tiny wheel that gives access to single shot or burst shooting as well as the self-timer and an auto bracketted exposure option.
The mode dial has eleven positions: PASM; ‘creative’ video shooting; three custom modes; stills creative control; 13 scene modes (inc portrait, backlit, children’s faces etc); intelligent auto; intelligent auto plus.
By now you will have sussed out that this camera attempts to straddle two levels of user: the expert who wants precise control of image capture and the dabbler, keen to fiddle with images.
Further along the top deck is the prominent on/off lever; three buttons that take you to ISO, AWB and exposure compensation; there is a front and a rear rotating dial that take you through a number of options; the shutter button is right at the front of the pronounced speed grip. And then there is the first of five Function buttons, with the other four sprinkled around the rear surface of the camera.
Rear: replay; Function buttons 2, 3, 5; auto focus and exposure lock button; video record; display options; a rotating control dial and concentric menu button.
So you can see, as I said: ‘There’s a ton of external controls …’
The 16.05 megapixel Live MOS sensor can capture a maximum image size of 4608×3456 pixels, or 39x29cm as a print.
Video? You can shoot Full HD in either MPEG4 or AVCHD. I was able to shoot stills while recording video with no apparent interruption to the latter. The AF tracked seamlessly mid video recording … a great performance.
Video users will appreciate the enhanced handling of the program material as it embeds SMPTE-compliant time code either in Rec Run or Free Run count-up methods; this makes it easy to synchronise multiple video shots or sound sources in post production.
In video sound recording, the DMC-GH3 has Dolby Digital for AVCHD Progressive /AVCHD videos, and linear PCM (LPCM) for un-compressed MPEG4 video. There are two 3.5mm terminals for an external microphone and headphone.
The camera uses OLED displays both in the rear LCD and the turret finder: while both displays are excellent, the former suffers in bright sunshine.
In the design of the GH3 great attention was paid to minimising sensor noise, preventing sensor noise from entering the output signal and preventing noise from entering the signal processing circuit, power supply and grounding lines. Sensitivity ranges from ISO 200 to ISO 12800, but you can extend this to ISO 25600 by accessing a special function.
The camera’s HDR mode takes three shots at different exposure levels and automatically combines them to produce a single image. Other shooting functions include Time lapse shooting and multiple exposures using four shots to combine into one.
The rear LCD screen can rotate 180 degrees laterally and tilt 270 degrees vertically.
Continuous speed: the GH3 can shoot at 6 fps in full res of 4608×3456 (maximum 18 consecutive shots in RAW+JPEG) and 20 fps at 2336×1752 pixels (maximum 80 consecutive shots in JPEG).
I much appreciated the on screen distinct level gauge, which detects the horizontal/vertical angle of view as well as sensing if the camera is tilted forwards or back.
The touch screen can be more useful than you think: just by touching the subject you want as your point of focus, the camera will focus on the subject and take the picture automatically.
In Creative Control mode you can access a range of additional image effects. You set the effects to add by selecting example images and confirming them on the screen. Such effects as expressive, retro, high and low key, mono. etc.
Going well at ISO 1600. Still clean at ISO 3200. OK at ISO 6400. Noise becoming visible at ISO 12800 but colour OK. At ISO 25600 noise is well up and there are signs of a colour shift.
Quality: excellent colour, tops in the sharpness dept.
Why buy the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3: built in flash with a GN of 12 (ISO 100 in metres) that covers a 24mm range; access to a wide range of lenses, inc Leica’s optics.
Why not: too many pro-ish controls for some users; too many amateur options for pros!
To me, this would make an excellent camera for an ambitious beginner: you could start by using it as a point-and-shoot, then gradually move upwards as you learn the more complex controls.
Image Sensor: 16.05 million effective pixels.
Metering: Multiple, centre-weighted and spot.
Effective Sensor Size: Four thirds 17.3×13.0mm CMOS.
Lens Factor: 2x.
Compatible lenses: Micro Four Thirds.
Exposure Modes: Auto, Program AE, shutter and aperture priority, manual.
Shutter Speed: Bulb, 60 to 1/4000 second; flash sync 1/160 sec.
Burst Speed: 6 fps.
Memory: SD/SDHC/SDXC cards.
Image Sizes (pixels): 4608×3456 to 1712×1712. Movies: 1920×1080, 1280x720p, 640×480.
Viewfinders: Turret finder (1.74 million pixels), 7.6cm LCD screen (614,000 pixels).
File Formats: JPEG, RAW, JPEG+RAW, AVCHD/MPEG4, MPO (3D).
Colour Space: Adobe RGB, sRGB.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 200 to 12800.
Interface: USB 2.0, AV, HDMI mini, WiFi, DC input.
Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery, AC adaptor.
Dimensions: 133x93x82 WHDmm.
Weight: Approx. 550 (inc battery).
Price: Get a price on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 (body only) or the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 with Panasonic H-FS 45-150mm Lumix G Series Lens.